Alum Wins Awards Teaching Students How to Produce Newspapers
When he graduated from the University of Iowa School of Journalism in 1999, Eric Johnston relocated to Seattle to pursue his dreams of becoming a sportswriter. After getting involved in the restaurant business, Johnston made the move to Nevada. Johnston was still in the restaurant businesses when he arrived outside Las Vegas, but quickly recognized the demand for educators. “They needed teachers so bad that you could literally walk in with a degree in anything,” Johnston said. “They’d put you in a fast track program and within six months you could have a teaching license.”
Johnston’s foray into education found him teaching English in middle schools for a few years until he landed at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nevada. Since 2008, he’s taught with Julie Goldstein, a fellow Iowa graduate. She majored in education and is set to retire in May 2020. Goldstein teaches yearbook and runs the journalism program alongside Johnston.
“Our rooms are right next-door and it’s a really weird coincidence that we both ended up here (at Green Valley),” Johnston said. “But we’re constantly bouncing ideas off each other and it helps to have those two programs (yearbook and journalism) working together.”
Johnston teaches courses such as Journalism Foundations and Journalism 2, which involves working on the school’s award-winning newspaper, The InvestiGator.
Locally, the paper has won a number of awards. In the last 25 years, The Investigator has been named the best high school newspaper in Nevada 20 times, seven of the awards coming during Johnston’s first 10 years at the school. Students writing for The InvestiGator have covered ambitious topics, including stories on homeless students, diversity of teachers compared to students, and an award-winning piece on a football player’s relationship with his mother as he battled leukemia.
Johnston has seen some of his students go onto impressive educations and careers in journalism. One of his former students is currently at Northwestern University and another was Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University who now writes agricultural articles in Australia. The InvestiGator is put together and edited by the students themselves. Johnston thinks that they learn more teaching each other and learning from experience rather than being taught recycled material in a traditional sense. He does, however, teach his students what he believes to be two important takeaways about journalism.
“If you go into journalism thinking it’s a dead field and doesn’t matter anymore, I think that’s pretty ridiculous,” Johnston said. “I’d argue it’s more important now than ever to be right. Just because you learn how to write journalistically doesn’t mean you have to major in journalism, those skills can benefit you in political science, marketing and PR. There’s a lot of fields that you can be very successful in.”
Story by Jack Martin, SJMC Student